Fitness ispo attracts legit suppliers, overall show huge

With snow sports, outdoor and fashion being the focus of the winter version of the ispo sporting goods show in Munich, Germany, fitness is relegated to a back hall that only has a teeny fraction of the energy and focus of the other areas. That's the bad news.

With snow sports, outdoor and fashion being the focus of the winter version of the ispo sporting goods show in Munich, Germany, fitness is relegated to a back hall that only has a teeny fraction of the energy and focus of the other areas. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the products being exhibited -- although still including a few archaic vibrating belts and electrical-stimulation toning devices -- are beginning to become more legitimate overall, especially with the likes of Nautilus, Horizon, Vision, York (Andy Fitness here), Icon, Tunturi, and Germany's Hammer and Kettler.

Per usual, Icon ("Aicon" in Germany) and Kettler had humongous fortress-like walled booths -- not just anybody wanders around their products or gets past the front desk.

Nautilus/Schwinn showed a range of professional products, including the Bowflex, although Germany's retail sales and marketing manager Frank Reckwald said the show isn't huge for the company.

The booth that was clearly jumping was a third the size and a bit farther back from the front-line fortresses -- Style Fitness GmbH, which represents Horizon and Vision at retail (as well as Matrix, Johnson and, now, Trixter bikes). Having only completed its third full year, the company has had phenomenal growth there; the product steals top ratings in prime consumer fitness magazines and managers place rather different but definitely eye-catching ads.

This year, Style Fitness' booth grew upward, adding a second story of meeting and sitting areas, and although not as large as the Aicon and Kettler fortresses up front, had a more welcoming and pervasive feel. It was also experiencing more foot traffic than in the past, country managing director Ulfert Boehme told SNEWS®.

"We're being taken seriously now. By the press too," Boehme said. "Here the quality of the meetings has been really good."

Of course that's in contrast to another exhibitor who was squeezed into a tiny space in the back of the hall who called the fitness show "pretty dead."

One smart move by the Johnson division in Germany is how it has individualized product for German and European needs, including changing aesthetics, console layouts, and emphasizing bikes more since their smaller size makes them big sellers there. The European division also already has the blue back-lit console that the U.S. division so far only has on Horizon's Sears product. And treadmills -- foldability and heart-rate control are mandatory there -- are now sold in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.

Despite the smaller and less energetic fitness segment of the ispo show, overall numbers for the 1.7-million-square-foot sporting goods show were huge. Over its four-day run, the show racked up more than 55,000 attendees or about a 17 percent increase in trade visitors. (Ed. Note: ispo management must have used new math in calculating a 25 percent increase in visitors based on an increase of 8,000 over last year's 47,000 attendees.) There were 1,691 exhibitors from 47 countries, up just over 11 percent from last year's 1,517 exhibitors from 43 countries. (Ed. Note: Again, ispo used new math to come up with a 15 percent increase. Huh?) Some 344 were from Germany -- actually fewer from the show's home country than last year's 360 -- with the next largest countries represented being Italy (201), Taiwan (172), the Czech Republic (156) and Pakistan (99). From the United States came 64 exhibitors and 32 from Canada.

"The international sporting goods market is on the upswing," said Manfred Wutzlhofer, CEO of the Munich trade show group, Messe Muenchen GmbH.

Unofficially, the SNEWS® Underground Rating (how squeezed you were on the morning train getting to the convention center) was "very high" on the first and second days of the shows, Sunday, Feb. 1, and Monday, Feb. 2. On the second day, traffic trickled down in the afternoon. Feb. 3 was steady but not packed (Underground Rating -- average), while the last day was, per usual for most shows, mostly slow to non-existent.

On the fitness segment's floor, other interesting sightings included:

>> Infiniti Fitness Systems -- Out of Taiwan, the company was introducing something called the "Total Trainer Pilates" that looked amazingly similar to the Total Gym or efi's GravityTrainer but in a smaller package. The company has been selling to Intersport stores for a number of years, said Louis Hung, sales manager. About the Total Trainer, he said, "We called it the Total Gym … uh … Trainer, because it's like a total gym."

>> Daum Electronic -- The German company showed a nifty little programmable chip for its bike and ellipticals called the "Custo Care Card." The size of a small cracker, the new card can be programmed with workouts by a doctor (or personal trainer) and then used at home by the consumer in the piece of equipment. It can also record the user's workouts, like a computerized log, so the doctor or trainer can download the records and note things like time, pace and even heart rate. The company is marketing it mostly as a tool for doctors to work with patients, but we see some applicability for trainers too. The company calls it "training by prescription," and the feature adds about Euro 300 to the cost of the Euro 900 upright bike or the Euro 1,000 elliptical. Daum has been around for 30 years but entered the retail business in the mid-90s.

>> Compex Medical -- Women lounging on chairs with electrical stimulation contacts on their stomachs under signs that ask, "Do you need energy?" No further comment.

>> Dr. Gruss -- Under a new license from Jaco Fitness out of Korea, Germany's Dr. Gruss was showing treadmills with Jaco's so-called "PACS" or "positioning automatic speed control system." (Don't bother figuring out the English or matching the letters to the acronym. We already went in circles with that.) Basically, the sensor speeds up the treadmill when the user is closer to the console, holds it steady when the person is in the center of the belt area, and slows it down when the user nears the back. Certainly we've already seen this in the United States on other brands.

>> Buff babes -- We couldn't figure this out, but a booth in the fitness area selling what we think were bikinis had some really buff, fit, tanned young babes in-line-skating around the entire show floor. Caught a lot of attention. But unfortunately there was no signage or labels on them so you really didn't know what it was all about.

>> Tao Technical Wear -- Only sold in central European countries, Tao introduced a fantastic looking interchangeable system for carrying water, food or gear on walks or runs (or even on exercise equipment). Called the Locksys system, it was a wide neoprene-like belt with everything from water-bottle holders, energy gel holders, CD holders, gear pockets of different sizes and you-name-it that the consumer could then buy separately to personalize the belt for his or her needs. Great concept that looked well-executed.

>> Precor -- Not exactly on the fitness floor, Precor was nevertheless at ispo -- products were on display with the Amer Sports booth in the ski hall, but were used mostly as "models" for demonstrating new Suunto heart-rate and exercise monitors.

>> Nordic Fitness -- Also seen in the running, fitness and ski halls were lots of mentions of "fitness." These companies know they have to attract consumers who may just be interested in health and not "best times" or black diamond ski runs. So they're using a new emphasis on Nordic walking and what companies are now calling "Nordic Fitness." Basically ski and pole companies are pushing activities that still use their products, such as walking with poles (aka Nordic walking) or winter walking (aka snowshoeing with poles). Then others such as heart-rate monitor companies or apparel companies are jumping on the bandwagon to market gear and clothing for these activities. Reebok even had its own Reebok-branded Nordic walking poles in its booth. You saw them if you could get your eyes off the dancers supposedly dressed like U.S. cheerleaders wearing cowboy boots and swinging pompons in hourly performances.


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